Legal Managers: 5 Tips to Help Your Hybrid Team Succeed
By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D., Executive Director, Robert Half
As pandemic-related restrictions ease, many all-remote workforces will morph into hybrid teams. In this arrangement, some employees travel to the office every day, others rarely come in, and others divide their time between home and the office. In many ways, it’s a win-win: Having workers in the office fosters team spirit and collaboration, while allowing employees to telecommute demonstrates that you put a great value on helping them achieve a good work-life balance.
Coordinating legal teams that are rarely in the same place at the same time presents unique challenges for law firms and legal departments. But with almost half of all managers expecting that hybrid working is here to stay, it’s a set of challenges worth rising to. For their part, it’s clear many employees are all in. In a recent Robert Half survey, 75% of professionals polled said they want to work remotely at least part of the time.
Here are five tips for managing a successful hybrid team.
1. Update your legal tech
The pandemic accelerated the trend towards cloud-based legal software. To remain competitive, your hybrid team needs contract analysis, data visualization and research tools they can access from anywhere. These days, law firms and legal departments can even use platforms that allow them to build bespoke automated legal services attuned to their clients’ needs.
Before rolling out powerful new software, consider how you will train your team to use it. Remote-only upskilling has the advantage of being open to everyone, but some may struggle without in-person tutelage. If possible, organize office-based training days for all team members, including full-time remote workers who live reasonably nearby for meetings, training sessions or crunch moments when you need all hands on deck.
2. Don’t lose sight of your clients’ needs
Clients are also adjusting to the new normal. Don’t assume they will welcome a return to in-person meetings, which they may regard as inefficient and non-cost-effective. But if you work in a legal specialty where face time is highly valued, such as criminal law, you may need to increase the number of employees who come into the office each day and hold outside meetings in person to meet client expectations.
Also, remember that your client development team trades on your firm’s reputation when seeking new business. Being agile, dynamic and forward-thinking are highly valued traits that could give your practice a competitive advantage in today’s market.
3. Embrace flexibility
In addition to having a hybrid workforce, you can give support to employee work-life balance by offering flexible schedules.
Take a paralegal who works 9-to-5, with three days in the office and two at home. Perhaps they would prefer to set their own calendar when working from home — covering mornings and evenings but not afternoons, for example. The upshot could be a happier employee and more resources for handling late-in-the-day client queries.
Sound out team members individually about their work arrangements but remember that flexibility doesn’t mean a free-for-all. You could insist on an “overlap time” — around a certain percentage of the day — when everyone’s hours align.
4. Avoid a two-tier workplace
In-office workers often have an advantage in being assigned high-profile projects simply because they’re visible every day. When a manager needs someone to lend a hand, they tend to grab whoever is available — usually, someone sitting in the office. Remote workers don’t get these same opportunities, and this can make them feel like they are the victims of bias.
As a leader, it’s your job to ensure that everyone on the hybrid team feels valued. Keep a close eye on who is getting opportunities to work on interesting projects. If there is a clear bias towards in-office staff, take steps to eliminate it.
5. Nourish your workplace culture
Companies have been able to maintain many aspects of their organizational culture despite employees no longer being in a central location. Workforces dispersed overnight quickly regrouped using Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms. Collaboration methods like screen sharing became second nature; water cooler chats reconvened on Slack.
It helped that everyone was in the same boat. That’s not the case with hybrid teams, which could make sustaining workplace culture more difficult. Over time, hybrid workers could develop different interpretations of the company culture that could grow to be at odds with the ideas of those who are in the office all the time. But the ways you helped sustain it during the pandemic’s worst can still help even if half your team returns to the office — at least for a while. For example, if online team meetings helped your team hang together, why not continue them, with office-based workers logging in from their desks? This spares remote workers any awkwardness or disconnect they might feel from video calling into a conference room filled with their colleagues.
And don’t forget that some firms may use this opportunity to rethink their culture and perhaps purposely drive it in new directions.
The transition to a hybrid workplace culture may be bumpy at first. But in an era when retaining talent has never been more important, building a positive hybrid culture is an investment worth making.
Jamy Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, a premier provider of talent and consulting solutions for a wide range of initiatives in the legal field, including compliance, contract management, data privacy, litigation support and more. Visit RobertHalf.com.